Back in March, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) finalized its long-awaited silica standard, requiring employers to reduce workers' exposure to the toxic, cancer-causing dust so common to construction and fracking sites, among other workplaces. OSHA estimates that the new standard will prevent more than 600 deaths and 900 new cases of silicosis annually. That is certainly commendable, but the kudos would be more heartfelt if the new standard had been adopted decades earlier and if it fully addressed the significant health risks to workers.
The unconscionable delays and unjustified concessions awarded to industry at the expense of workers' health and safety are hardly unique to the silica standard; rather, they are the product of our broken regulatory process, which is riddled with analytical requirements designed to generate business-friendly outcomes.
In the case of the silica standard, OSHA set the permissible exposure level (PEL) at 50 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) – the level recommended by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in 1974. But despite clear scientific evidence of the significant risks to workers, OSHA took four decades to finalize the rule because of intense industry pressure to stop it.
Industry leaders hired lobbyists to fight the new standard on the grounds that reducing exposures would be prohibitively expensive to businesses, ignoring the fact that workers and taxpayers have historically paid the costs of these hazards. During this 40-year fight, industry ...